Critter campaigners aren't beating about the bush, baby
They want a Joburg development canned to protect 50 bushbabies, but developer says the cuties will be accommodated
The bustling suburb of Fourways in Johannesburg is not a place you would expect to find a bushbaby.
But conservationists say there are about 50 of the bushy-tailed primates living in a green belt in the city.
They have come together to protest against a proposed housing development called The Straight, which will sit on a 30x340m plot that falls directly across the habitat of the Lesser Bushbaby.
Save the Bushbabies of Fourways is an organisation run by local resident Surita Volland, who has made it her mission to conserve the Fourways troop.She has started a petition calling for the development to be terminated, which to date has garnered more than 18,400 signatures.
“The whole process was flawed from the start. The development was advertised on June 15 2016, but the objections date had been mistakenly marked for 28 days after the advertisement, at ‘15th June 2015’,” Volland said.
But town planner Theuns van Brakel, from Van Brakel Professional Planning and Property Services, said readers would have known they had 28 days to object, despite the unintended error.
“We waited 28 days and nobody objected,” he said.
He said residents were to blame if the habitat for the bushbabies was destroyed, because they had created an artificial environment for the troop.“The acacia were planted by residents for the bushbabies. Our view is that by planting the acacia the residents have enticed the babies further from the river and into the land we want to develop. This land is owned by someone who has to pay rates – it is unfair of the local residents to plant these trees and now the owner can’t develop his land.
“This is becoming an emotional issue because bushbabies are cute. Where is the proof that they inhabit the area? We need to count them and tag them and see how far they roam before we have evidence that they live there.
“I take my job very seriously and I take the environment seriously. If we see them [wildlife] we will take them to a place of safety. We cannot simply kill the animals; [we] have to notify environmentalist and the animal will be released in a safe area.”
But Irene Mckenzie-Fraser, from the Centre for Animal Rehabilitation and Education (Care), says it’s not as easy as that.“You have to walk the area and see if there is enough food for them. We only release [the bushbabies] in summer because the insects and worms and mosquitoes they eat will hibernate in winter. They are also extremely territorial so we have to make sure there is enough land for them and that the established bushbaby troops will not be disturbed.
“Care often takes in legavaans, snakes, water mongooses and slender mongooses, birds, monkeys and bats. Last year we treated 40 bats for poisoning.”
However, Mckenzie-Fraser does not believe the petition will yield any results.“I do not believe in petitions. We have tried petitions before but money talks, and we are up against big construction companies."
Eco Culture Sechaba Foundation chairperson Alexander Frost said he believed the bushbabies living on the servitude between east and west Waterford estate would not survive the development in question.
“The removal of the existing established indigenous trees and vegetation, as well as the huge disturbance to the local ecosystem while building will most likely lead to the bushbaby population dying out.
“It would be a huge shame on us to allow this green belt, which supports so much indigenous wildlife, including this only Johannesburg bushbaby population, to be destroyed,” Frost said.
The property developer, Gareth Kemp from Tyto Group Investment, said there would definitely be consultations with the community.
“When we bought the property we had no idea there were bushbabies in the area. We have taken our original plans for 17 houses and turned them into 13 houses, allowing for a green space at the end of the property.He said a development agency had been contracted to compile a report.
“We came up with an action plan to ensure the bushbaby population will remain as untouched as possible. That includes planting rows of acacia trees which the animals use as a source of gum. We have ensured that the trees at either end of the property remain intact and we have committed to putting up roosting boxes for the bushbabies to live in.
“To date we have not heard from any of the complainants – none of the activists have contacted us. They remain a faceless organisation to us. We would like to have the opportunity to show them our plans so they see we have done all we can to ensure the property remains a safe place for the animals.”